June 29th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Sexual misconduct in the Church

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Coalition MPs revolt against the ICC

New policies needed to rescue agriculture

COMMENT: How Ruddock could face charges before the ICC

Straws in the Wind: From the other side of the street / Dying culture

Sectarianism rears its ugly head in Victorian ALP

Census figures show decline of the family unit

Media ambush (letter)

Ancient wisdom (letter)

Reality cinema (letter)

Where the facts lie (letter)

Asylum seekers I (letter)

Asylum seekers II (letter)

Children as commodities (letter)

Who will stand up for small business, rural Australia?

OPINION: Reflections on the British monarchy

International terrorism: keeping the issues in focus

Despite tensions: Indonesia looks ahead

BOOKS: 'Undue Noise: Words and Music' by Andrew Ford

BOOKS: 'The Broken Hearth' by William Bennett

BOOKS: 'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress' by Dai Sijie

COMMENT: That other Holocaust

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Straws in the Wind: From the other side of the street / Dying culture

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, June 29, 2002
From the other side of the street

As most readers would know, I am not a Roman Catholic, nor do I intend to move house any time soon. And it so happens, I am not a homosexual. I live on the other side of the street, with a full view of the Catholic Church opposite. A little further down on the same side as the Church is a synagogue whose doings and those of its adherents have also interested me, for many years. I was sometimes called a yiddisher goy. Had there been a mosque, I doubtless would have added it to my mental life in the same way. For we, the Children of God, express ourselves in many ways, and one of these, religiously, makes us unique among all the species.

The Catholic Church has been under attack for as long as I can remember - here, and in many other countries. My experience of pre-war sectarian Australia I have already recounted, but in the West sectarianism has had to take different forms, post-war, for we were all sick of divisive group intolerances and the damage they had done. Many of the attacks on the Catholic Church have concerned aspects of existing Church doctrine, and mainly stem from inside the Church, or come from ex-members. For an outsider, familiar stuff - to be observed going on in other churches, and in political parties with "True Believers".

A lot of this turns out to be grabs for power - which are ungodly and irreligious activities by their very nature.

But there were also campaigns over the decades about the Church's role in the War, about the career of Pius XII, the Cold War, South America, whether Catholics were disposed to anti-Semitism, etc, etc.

For a lot of this time, it's been more comfortable to be Red than Black. But with the passing of the years, these campaigns have become more-and-more disingenuous, self-serving and aiming to sow conflict, not amity.

The latest crisis, which extends beyond churches and schools, and concerns all people and institutions with a duty of care for and of the young and vulnerable - physically and psychologically - is centred upon the sexual abuse or molestation of minors (male and female), by priests or teachers working in the church or allied institutions.

Lights, camera, shoot

As this crisis has been developing for quite some time and is picking up stowaways as it ploughs on, stowaways who would like to prolong the crisis for as long as possible and inflict maximum damage upon the Church, only a provisional rundown is possible at the moment.

1. There has been a long campaign by gay Catholic activists to have the Church relax or withdraw its anathema against homosexuality, insofar as it applies to enjoying the full rights possessed by Catholics in church proceedings. They have also pressed for all barriers to the freedom of gays to practise as priests or teachers, or in caring for the young or vulnerable - to go.

So far as I can see, the Church here has followed the Pope's rulings on these matters, and Church doctrine generally, and resisted this gay reform lobby. The Church has been called homophobic for its pains, with Archbishop Pell being particularly singled as homophobic.

Our media have shown consistently strong support for the gay Catholic position, and for its demonstrations, as it has for the gay activist movement generally. All orthodox critics are in danger of being called homophobic (in reality, that would have to include a host of ordinary homosexuals who will have no truck with gay activism and despise vulgarities like the Mardi Gras). But our media never let facts get in their way. But certainly - Pell was a homophobe, 'twas said.

2. Lurking in the background, both sustaining and reflecting the libertarian egalitarianism of, for example, the gay activist lobbies, are the Anti-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity laws and the Political Establishment. A church (or a school, caring institution, etc) cannot, so far as I can see, refuse on the grounds of homosexuality the application of someone wanting to serve or remain a priest (or parson), or to teach the young; to generally assume the role of being in a relationship of in loco parentis to the young or vulnerable.

In passing, I think that most parents, especially in the light of the sensationalist material being produced by the media, and being seized on for bizarrely opportunistic reasons by the Labor Party ("We demand a Royal Commission!") and some gay activists ... would not want gays to have automatic rights to be priests, teachers or carers for the young and vulnerable. It should be the rights of the employer to decide - or, ideally, the parents.

But the Church's hands (and not only the Church's) are tied. They cannot publicly state as their reason for not appointing someone or deciding to dismiss him - that he/she is homosexual. Or even, that they suspect that he may be disposed to acts of paedophilia in the future. For that is speculation, no more, on their part. No: these applicants will have to be allowed in with all rights. Any senior priest who warned others to keep an eye on him/her or keep him/her away from the young would be discriminatory; and could also face a defamation suit.

No, an act would have to be committed with all the damage to the victim that journalists, litigation lawyers and dissident Catholics are ringing their hands over. Yes, the damage would have to be done and the Church could only shut the gate after the horse was out. The argument is supposed to be around how quickly or slowly the gate was shut after the event. Pell, for example, would like to stop the process at the inception, not at the end.

But no matter how swift or merciless the Church may be with the detected offender, it is still liable for a damages suit, and following the dropping of the confidentiality rule, it might expect the victim's lawyer to double dip by arranging a media story with the usual bad publicity. This can, for a time, be a perpetual feast for some of the worst professional elements in our society. As things stand, the Church is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

To return to my side of the street.

There appears to have been a long history of paedophilic priests who were simply shuttled around away from the nest they'd fouled to another. Which, alas, some of them again fouled. They were protected too much and for too long and the victims' rights were treated as secondary.

In the earlier stage, the system closed ranks to look after one of its own. "He's one of us." Like some armies and police - while the legal, judicial and medical professions still seem pretty good at this. But that is no excuse. And the turpitude of the abuser of the pastoral and caring relationship sets it apart.

Then there was the fear, well-grounded, of bad publicity. But apparently that corrupt or frightened ecclesiastical mind frame has been exorcised or is being exorcised. As you would expect, it is the reformers who were attacked for trying and who are now being made responsible for the sins and omissions of their predecessors. (But this last move is about politics and power.)

Dying culture

I have never had problems with people being homosexual. - having known them and been friends with them from school, the public service, the army, university, bohemia and politics. I sometimes wondered what a lot of the anger was all about. Many of my closest longstanding friendships have been with homosexual males, and they have been loyal, helpful and mature. I wish I could speak as well for some of my former male heterosexual "friends". One of the former is the godfather of one of my sons - not a responsibility one should confer lightly. So, like many other people, I'm most concerned that this affair doesn't impact upon the acceptance and public image of homosexual people in general. If it does, it will be due to the indiscriminate, double-standard, witch hunt of the media, the usual Labor hypocrites and those engaged in intra-church struggles ... with other, larger goals in view.

Ray Cassin (Sunday Age, June 16) formerly of The Age, then Eureka Street (for which I used to write), now again The Sunday Age, has an article "Denial and the disgrace of the dying culture". Read it for yourself, but it's not a history of The Age. He speaks of the church he attends having full pews along with most Catholic churches in Melbourne: "despite statistics about declining attendance". The reason, as he says, is that the worshippers have faith. But, they're still listening to the wrong people. Yeah, yeah. But "we are witnessing the death of a culture". Are we? At least it's not the death of history, of capitalism, of Bush's policies, of courtly love. Choose your own dartboard: but mind you don't drop those sour grapes.

But to those with faith, and others: my rundown on why the Catholic Church, pre-eminently at the moment among the Christian churches, is ruffling many feathers:

1. It is against abortion and euthanasia.

2. It is pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-parenting.

3. It is against the drug industry - a very powerful group with friends and partakers among the highest and lowest in the land, and viewed with some favour by quite a few Low Church clerics.

4. It supports censorship, and opposes the growing pornography industry with its step-by-step introduction into the media and cinema.

5. It is against non-adult stem cell research, which medical hucksters hope can bring them millions.

6. It opposes the sex industry and the people and philosophy behind it.

7. It believes in law and order, and the defence of political rights and freedom of speech.

8. It objects to that terrible troika of uncontrolled gambling, the booze lobbies, conspicuous credit card materialism.

9. It supports traditional, intellect-based education, with discipline and decorum in schools and, along with other private schools, is creaming the desperately-unjust state education system, of which once-pristine original I was a grateful beneficiary.

10. It actually is propagating Christian values, so is against the "Me Society". Listen to Me. Look at Me. Carry Me. Pity Me. Compensate Me.

I could go on - but the faithful and most Australians would agree with most of this, though constantly pressured not to live that way, can see how many enemies the contemporary Church might have - even in potentia. But once the faithful get the picture - there are really no problems, except sticks and stones. No journo, or religious malcontent-wacker, can take away your driver's licence.

But if the Church could be shut up - which it used to be accused of doing - or if its spokesmen could be bluffed into silence, or removed, the mullock would stop flying.

The demand is really to sing the song of the New Class and its four horsemen. But why share the disgrace of their dying culture.

Finally, Channel Nine, like the other media conglomerates, is in mounting trouble, with the parent organisation PBL just having had its ratings downgraded by Standard and Poors. Channel Nine may think it a nice idea to turn itself into something like Norton's old Truth - with a constant stream of salacious revelations - "What the Butler Saw", "Servant Girl Tells All", and who better to pick on than people who can't really answer back in kind? The Coward's Dream.

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